Improving product value through quality documentation

PRESS RELEASE dated 2003-05-12

British businesses are losing money hand over fist due to poorly written product documentation such as user guides, manuals and online help systems.

Business case studies from the USA have proven the value of clear and concise communication with one company saving an average of 53% on its health and safety budget following the production of new training manuals. The same company achieved a reduction in time loss of between 9% and 15%.

"The value of having well written documentation cannot be overstated. The cost to British business overall must be enormous when the figures from the USA are considered. This must mean that British businesses are losing thousands if not millions of pounds each year simply because they do not have documentation that employees, suppliers and customers can easily understand," says Dr Mike Unwalla of Sheffield based TechScribe and member of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (www.istc.org.uk).

"Effective communication is critical to all aspects of business success. If businesses are to gain or maintain a competitive edge in a world of shrinking profit margins then they cannot afford to waste time, resources and money on communication that does not work," says Stuart Green, President of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce (www.scci.org.uk).

Businesses often make the mistake of having product designers or technicians write the documentation or training manual for the product or system they have devised. The result of this can be highly paid engineers or technicians spending an inordinate amount of project time on documentation. "Designers, technicians and developers are hired for their specific abilities and skills. It is highly unlikely that their writing ability was considered during the recruitment process; it's rather like buying a cat and expecting it to bark!" says Dr Unwalla.

Most businesses never have the time or specialist resources to put together essential documents and end up relying on inappropriate 'resident experts' to draft documentation. Much as the endeavour of non-specialist employees is to be praised more often than not this turns out to be a waste of time and money. What's more, if the resident expert leaves the company is left with a large information gap, which can put the company in a hazardous position. Poorly written and produced documentation such as user guides, help and reference manuals will fail in its purpose no matter how good the product it is intended to support.

Problems with inadequately written documentation are not confined to paper-based guides. The permeation of ICT into the workplace has seen a growth in companies using software packages often accompanied by online user manuals.

"The problem is that software developers tend not to have the writing skills needed to bring a guide or product manual to life which can result in users ignoring the guide or manuals and accessing premium rate telephone support systems. In 1997 Microsoft estimated the cost of a single phone call to a help desk to be $20; try to imagine the cost to a business today of a badly produced online help or user guide or the damage it can do to that business's reputation if the user guide accompanying the product cannot be understood by the customer!" says Dr Unwalla.

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Notes for editors

Dr Mike Unwalla is working with documentation experts from around the world to draft a new user guide and on-screen help standard called Guidelines for the design and preparation of user documentation for application software (ISO/IEC 18019). During the drafting process, over 1000 comments were reviewed, and responses provided. The end product will be an International Standard that will provide current best practice to documentation producers across the globe.

TechScribe is becoming globally recognised as a source of authoritative information about technical writing. Technical Communication students at Central Queensland University in Australia are recommended to read a section of the TechScribe website www.techscribe.co.uk as part of their studies.

For more information about this press release, call Graham Parker of Parker PR on 0845 225 5835 or 07977 448 306  or send him an e-mail message on info@parkerpr.co.uk [Editor's note: contact details updated 2007-02-12].

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